We are all well aware of the strong and enduring tendency to attribute individual leadership to the possession of certain personality traits, or the ability to express particular behaviors. We continue to be seduced by such claims despite their having been repeatedly and thoroughly discredited by academic research since the late 1940s.
We’ve dealt with the trait theory of individual leadership before, in a series last year called “Lapses in leadership,” so I hope you will click through to those posts for more on that. I bring it up here, in the context of our current discussion, only to set the stage for asking this question: If leaders have no inevitably distinguishing personal characteristics or behaviors, then why are we talking about them as individuals at all?
If they have no pre-identifiable markers of leadership, how can you select one to run your organization? How can you, as a “follower,” really know who to hitch your star to? How are the legions of aspirants to leadership to learn what kind of person they should be – or, at least, act like – in order to become or to be recognized as a leader?
And if none of those things are actually possible, why are we still inundated with so many claims that people can do them for you, or teach you how to do them for yourself? What’s more, if those people are right, where is the evidence?
As it happens, we have also learned time and again that past leadership performance cannot reliably point to, much less guarantee, future leadership results. That would suggest that we may have had it wrong in the first place. So, if we are unable even to detect leadership, why do we keep kidding ourselves that we can predict it?
There is no evidence, in either the past or the present, about the present existence, or the likelihood of the future development, of leadership in specified individuals. Why? Because leadership does not originate in individuals.
That assertion requires that we look at another myth promulgated by the modern leadership movement: the supposed distinction between leadership and management. We will begin with that tomorrow – see you then!
The Verdict: Please stop over to Leadership Turn to see Miki Saxon‘s suggestions regarding where to look for the source of the leadership failures we see all around us today. And speaking of “The Verdict,” please also see her offering of quotes from the man who delivered one of the greatest screen performances ever acted, in one of the most powerful movies ever made.
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